Sunday, 19 February 2017

Snow Buntings (18 February)

Saturday 18 February. Springlike conditions and a selection of nice birds made for an enjoyable day in West Sussex with John King. Our main focus was the Snow Buntings at East Head which were constantly on view during the 90 minutes we were with them. Views were excellent despite many dogs being walked nearby - at one stage a quick scan counted over 140 people walking around the westernn half of East Head. Two Sandwich Terns were fishing off the harbour entrance and 21 Red-breasted Mergansers in the otherwise quiet main chanel between us and Thorney.  A Spotted Redshank, 2 Greenshank and 35 Golden Plover were on Snowhill Marsh but a nice sunny day made viewing very difficult. On the way to and from East Head we made brief stops at Chichester Marina, more in hope than expectation that a Bittern might appear, it didn't. We spent an hour at Fishbourne with the tide coming in seeing lot of Black-tailed Godwits, Curlew and Redshank, a Mediterranean Gull, Kingfisher and 9 Yellowhammers. Our final stop was Ivy Lake where Ads Bowley told us wehere to find the Long-tailed Duck and we returned the favour popinting out the Scaup, now in almost full adult male plumage. The Long-tailed Duck was smarter than expected too.
Snow Buntings at East Head, perhaps their most regular site in Sussex

Friday, 17 February 2017

Mediterranean Gulls on the Adur

Friday 17 February. Another low tide dog-walking visit to the Adur and a sense of deja vu with single North Thames Herring Gull (this one J6HT, the 130th different colour-ringed bird I've seen between the A27 and the railway line) and an adult Mediterranean Gull (this one in almost full summer plumage). Additionally a Kingfisher flew up river, nice.
almost full-summer plumaged adult Mediterranean Gull on the Adur

open wide
 Thursday 16 February. I took Cookie for another walk at Shoreham Fort, again failing to see the Waxwings on the way. Dick Eyre-Walker was there and told me they'd not been seen since the previous morning. At the Fort the sea was much quieter but there was a juvenile Eider in the harbour entrance. On the sea were 8 Red-throated Divers, 25 Razorbills and 2 Guillemots with 100+ other auks seen. It was quite low tide so we called in at the Adur on the way home seeing a single North Thames Herring Gull and an adult Mediterranean Gull.
one of two Brent Geese by the Yacht Club (photo taken there on 28 January)
North Thames Herring Gull Z5MT, not one I'd recorded before

winter adult Mediterranean Gull on the Adur
Wednesday 15 February. A mid morning return to the Fort with Cookie. Still not sure where the Waxwings were feeding I took a rather circuitous route but to no avail. At the Fort there were lots of birds on or over the sea. I recorded 22 Red-throated Divers, 115 Brent Geese (flying E), 12 Kittiwakes, 950 Razorbills and 4 Guillemots with a further 100 auks flying west. A Purple Sandpiper was on the wooden jetty when I arrived and it or another was feeding on the inside of the West Arm. My first Rock Pipit there this year was seen too. I returned to what I thought was the waxwing area and started to walk around when I saw John King in a side street. This was the favoured location but the birds had not been seen since about 10:00. They had flown off a short time before John arrived and about the time I would have been passing. We stayed in the area seeing several familiar faces but they had not returned in an hour so Cookie and I left.
Razorbill off Shoreham Harbour
Purple Sandpiper on Shoreham Harbour

Stock Dove in the garden
Tuesday 14 February. In the afternoon Megan and I took Cookie to Shoreham Fort. With reports of a small flock of Waxwings on Shoreham Beach we kept a close eye on the few berry bushes we past but saw no birds or birders. Not knowing where they had been seen didn't help. The visit to the Fort was barely more successful with just 5 Turnstone seen.

Sunday 12 February. A walk around the houseboats with Megan and Cookie produced the wintering Greenshank and 25+ Teal in the main channel.
Greenshank by the houseboats

Saturday 11 February. Martyn Kenefick was over with Trinidad and staying with us for a couple of days. Despite me fighting off a cold and Martyn more used to temperatures at least 30C warmer we decided to visit the Cuckmere to look for the Twite. The prospect of some geese and the chace to check the gull flock were an added draw. As we walked down the sea wall we met Ads Bowley was coming away. The bird had been showing well. Approaching the area we saw John King waving at us and pointing. The bird had flown our way and appeared to be on view between us, just not from where we were. A slight change of position and I was watching the first Twite I'd seen since being on the Tibetain Plateau in June 2000. Very nice. After a while it flew off and MK, JK and Simon Linington who had been watching it with us walked around to view the gulls and geese. The gulls included a GReat Black-back ringed at Le Havre and three Norwegian birds too distant to read but nothing more interesting. We also saw the 4 Cackling Geese, 9 Barnacles, 5 hybrids and 21 White-fronts. By now we were all quite chilled and walked back to the car. Martyn saw a Whimbrel which I had a retrospective flight view of. In the afternoon Megan and I took Cookie for a walk by the river seeing 7 Reed Buntings. Martyn sensible stayed in.

Cackling Canada Geese in the Cuckmere with two of the five presumed Cackling x Barnacle hybrids. Interesting birds but unlikely to trouble list keepers. 
Twite in the Cuckmere
the first I'd seen in Britain for nearly 20 years
hard to remember that even in the 1980s Twite were relatively common winter visitors to Sussex. I saw them in the Cuckmere, on the Adur or at Pagham (e.g.40 on 10 November 1984 and 23 on 20 January 1987).  In the 1990s I saw 4 on Newmarket Hill on 2 November 1990, 6 at Pagham on 26 Novembver 1994 and 3 there on 10 November 1996 and that is it.
White-fronted Geese in the Cuckmere, we saw 21.

Thursday, 9 February 2017


Just back from an enjoyable week in Jamaica. 

Rasta Bird

More in due course ...

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Gulls in the Cuckmere (27 January)

Friday 27 January. A morning high tide and forecast strong winds made a visit to the gull roost in the lower Cuckmere tempting particularly as one or two Glaucous Gulls had been seen there, one with some degree of regularity. I met John King at the barn at 09:00 and we walked down to Harry's Bush. About 1000 birds were present but an initial scan of the flock failed to produce a Glauc. We moved down to the footpath and at 09:30 started looking through the flock more carefully. We soon saw several colour-ringed Great Black-backs, then towards the back of the flock what appeared to be a near adult Caspian Gull which was on view for 20 minutes mostly preening wit its head out of view. At 10:20 a first-winter Glaucous Gull flew in and showed very well. At 10:55 a first-winter Caspian Gull flew in landing by the nearest pool where it proceeded to wash. It was constantly on the move, making it hard to get images, before walking into the flock and obscuring itself. About 15 minutes later the gulls all flew, most landing a bit further away in the field, but it couldn't be located. I increased my colour-ring total to 6 then we saw a third-winter Yellow -legged Gull and finally at 12:05 what I thought at the time was an argentatus Herring Gull appeared, albeit a very white headed individual. It was mostly sleeping but closer examination of images revealed it to be the original near adult Caspian Gull. It, the Glauc and the Yellow-legged Gull were still present when we dragged ourselves away at 12:35. While watching the gulls a couple of Ravens flew over calling, always a nice distraction.

first-winter Caspian Gull in the Cuckmere on the only occasion it was still and unobscured long enough to photograph
to me it looked a classic showing in this image its small white head with dark eye, long thin bill, dark eye, predominantly grey mantle with some dark anchors, long black primaries, fairly plain brown coverts and long pale flesh legs.
the snouty headshape showing well while washing
showing predominantly pale underwing
very white underparts
mostly white rump just about visible

small head
long thinish legs, ventral bulge and recently eaten anaconda neck
most of the bird is hidden in this final photo of it is recognisable by its tertial pattern, gleaming white head and dark eye
presumed male adult Caspian Gull, its bill and hints of brownish on  the coverts suggesting it was not quite adult
it looked more convincing in this image with its long thin legs visible, a bulging neck, small head, dark eye and long thin bill
small head and eyes particularly noticeable here with ventral bulge just about evident
almost two hours later I saw what I thought at the time was an adult argentatus Herring Gull, albeit with an exceptionally white head. It appeared the same size as the nearer Great Black-backed Gull but perhaps that was a female as those behind look bigger.
not seeing a birds head and bill is never helpful
it was only when checking images, taken on a rare occasion when it moved, that I had a clear view of its bill and realised it was the near adult Caspian Gull seen earlier
that explained the all white head which I'd rather overlooked at the time
small dark eyes

long legs, small head and long thin bill
first-winter Glaucous Gull

its wings appeared very worn

head and shoulders above everything else
Great Black-backed Gull F8AT. A North Thames bird, not usually very exciting but my only other North Thames Great Black-back had been seen at sea off  Arctic Norway.
Great Black-backed Gull JA551. Ringed when a chick at Herreholmen, Lyngdal, Vest-Agder, Norway in July 2009 and seen in 2012 at Birling Gap in April (by John Cooper) and Saint-Vaast-La Houge, Manche, France in October.
Great Black-backed Gull JC328. Ringed when a chick at Hogeholmen Skjernoysund, Mandal, Vest-Agder, Norway  in June 2016 and seen Katwijk ann Zee, Zuid Holland in October and Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais on 31 December 2016.
Great Black-backed Gull JJ491. Ringed when a chick at Langholmen, Strand, Rogaland, SW Norway in July 2016.
Great Black-backed Gull JTY6. It was ringed when a chick in the far south of Norway in June 2001 and since then has been seen on Helgoland  in 2002, Rotterdam in 2002, 2003 and 2009 and Denmark in 2009.
Norwegian colour-ringed Great Black-backed Gull. At the time I read it as JW795 but unless it as been hibernating since 2011 when it was ringed when a chick I clearly misread it. Unfortunately my image doesn't help at all.
third-winter Yellow-legged Gull, note straw coloured legs and dark mantle
opening an eye is as much as it moved
Barnacle Geese in the Cuckmere, there were nine
gulls in the Cuckmere, decent viewing from behind the edge
even from distance the Glaucous stood out like a sore thumb
Wednesday 25 January. An impressive movement of Razorbills off Shoreham Harbour with 630 west in 20 minutes from 09:00. It was then as if a tap had been turned off. Also 30 Razorbills and 11 Great Crested Grebe on the sea, 4 Red-throated Divers east, a Purple Sandpiper and 4 Turnstones on the harbour and 4 Gannets offshore. The only passerine seen was a Meadow Pipit. Megan and I then spent 90 minutes walking around an almost birdless Rackham and Parham Park (where the lake was frozen), seeing a single Nuthatch and hearing Green Woodpecker. A low tide visit to the Adur in the afternoon produced just 5 Redshank and hardly any gulls.

Tuesday 24 January. A Peregrine on the Power Station on my way to work. It was too cold in the easterly wind to stop and get my binoculars out.